“Who will survive and what will be left of them?”
RIP Tobe Hooper. 25th January,1943 – 26th August, 2017.
We here at The Cult Movie Review have already reviewed one of this directors movies, so he now has the unenviable honour (if that is what you want to call being reviewed on this site) of a second blog outing. To be fair we did say at the outset of our first film review of his work Lifeforce (1985) that we had deliberately avoided the obvious in not immediately reviewing what is undoubtedly this directors horror opus and true to our word we did just that… “until now!” So when we arrive at this point and review Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”, many of you that know me through my review work or via Twitter or on a personal level will have been wondering why I have not yet reviewed this masterpiece, as I have frequently hinted of my great fondness for this 1970’s cult classic. So without further ado I am about to open my heart and reveal why it has taken me 37 long years from my first contact with this movie to offering those interested my candid and *biased opinion.
We are not shy in admitting that this forthcoming personal appraisal regarding this particular piece of horror cinema to be (… wait for it!) our idea of the greatest genre movie ever made thus far in cinema’s short though progressive lifetime. Right horror fans let us cut to the chase. Yes it is yet another broad (possibly stupid) hyperbole statement to make by this reviewer and again many of you will in turn vehemently disagree with this point of view, (as is your right). However, before you condemn “… and send out the Sawyer family to gain my flesh, bones and blood?” let me first explain why we have reached this conclusion and why up until now I have been very reluctant to write about this 70’s master work. Many of your/our favourite horror movies are often defined by their horror sub genres of which “Chain Saw” in fact of the matter fits in enumerable such categories and as such the films expanse crosses all variable boundaries and all possible horror film staple perceptions and therefore makes this piece of film an often and justly defined go to movie in both its auteur in his creative visionary perspective and its deep routed placement in horror culture, including its subsequent and countless influential historical cinematic levels and occasion. It is indeed a massive genre boundary breaker and even to this day is still unquestionably the case in point and why it is held in such high esteem by many genre fans across the globe… and rightly so! “The Texas Chain saw Massacre” has often had many of its movie assets subsequently borrowed/hijacked and has even had many attempts by others to (remake) this classic since its original inception with varying degrees of box-office success but little else I am afraid. The resulting fascination for this film is boundless and for that reason it undoubtedly sets up Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece as the standard bearer of the genre and therefore gives it a status above and beyond anything else ever made before or since its glorious birth in the summer on location shoot which began 15th July, 1973 and was shot over 32 days. “Chain Saw” is the perfect antitheses of combining a deliberately antagonistic title and marketing campaign more in-common with a low budget exploitative process while at the same time giving the film a unique look that emits an individual far more intelligent up-grade of far superior cinematic infusions for the low budgetary total sum spent upon the project, (though Co-producers Hooper and Kim Henkel continually struggled with the budget and had to re-finance the picture in order to complete it!) The end result of this endeavour is a film that surpasses any set pre-conceptions people may have regarding its categorised genre imagery and striking pop-culture orientation. The movie offers a real sense of timing, a considered dimensional reality and a genuine attempt at adding its own original imprint in a dramatic and severe form of filmmaking. The films resulting success is in frightening you in its cultural ethos of subsequent wholesale slaughter but note; more in what you do not visually experience rather than overstate the obvious in what could have been a film containing lashings of gore in a more prevalent way throughout the process. Fortunately on this occasion the director sees fit to have real restraint on said carnage and as a result the film works perfectly in offering its audience the opportunity of actually subjugating the brains – grey matter which then becomes stimulated with moments of ingenious pure shock effect, then allowing this temperate feature of the movie to do much of the work instead. The film is a perfect example of how to involve audience participation and take a major hold of that sense of fear and offer you a visual consumption more exaggerated in dramatisation than actually occurs in on-screen time. For me personally this movie is not just the best indicator and representation of many great complex lines of cinematic creativity and heavily invested characterisation but as a major part of horror cinema and a working piece of storytelling it also contains very large doses of dark melodrama which allow this film to entertain every conceivable carved in stone rule of both great horror and even less obvious, a maddening and twisted humourous undertow which is added to all the movies integral components with the invested bonus of massive amounts of stone cold fear factor thrown in and much more besides. The film also has to be noted on a personal level for what was for me a head-on collision course that I as an individual suffered in its unrelenting wake. I had to deal with a great many feelings that clearly defined my first true cinematic terror, as a result this film forever changed my own personal imposed outlook on the genre as it was before and as since formed over many decades. “Chain Saw” sums up everything noteworthy and true to the horror experience and all the richness of genuine top range entertainment.
This moment of cinematic madness had a massive effect on my life in many drastic and complex ways and on many personal levels. “Let me explain”. My introduction to this film came far too soon in my immature life, a time of childhood which made the situation all the more fortunate/unfortunate as the case may be and dependent on your own viewpoint or dependent on which part of the world you stem from. With differing cultural guidelines and the diverse social cinematic viewing interpretation has to the rights and wrongs of how a child was subjected to such a visual output is a matter that is definitely open to serious discussion wherever you live in the world! My own personal first point of contact with horror before this particular movie entered my life had been the world in which my parents closely vetted my viewing accessibility of classic horror movies which began with the televisual offerings of black & white Universal/RKO monsters, eventually my parents allowed a steady drip feed expanse of more home grown glorious colour Hammer and Amicus film productions and the occasional British or US imported horror/Sci-Fi TV serialisations. What had been acceptable for me before “Chain Saw” would doubtless become mild by the high comparisons set after watching Tobe Hooper’s seminal masterpiece. I must also add at this juncture that there was a great cost to be had for my “too much too young” introduction to what for me was the most terrifying of movie experiences and with that fact now firmly engrained into that early stage of my life came the obvious and sudden state of confusion and emotional turmoil, which from that moment on placed me in a status irreversible. Despite doubt, child trepidation and great misgiving, I felt initial exhilaration and excitement at the prospect of watching this movie but soon after achieving my quest I would note as a consequence regular visitations of these wretched nightmarish shadowing Hooper/Henkel created characters that appeared during many of my sleeping hours (frequently), these filmic creations of fiction had now become looming visual anathema’s stuck on the replay button of my mind. Add the constant on-screen reminder of those terrible screams of Marilyn Burns – Sally Hardesty that had been left echoing and rattling around in my brain, ultimately defining my fragile child psyche indefinitely. This film really did change my life. No one was to blame for how I came across or first viewed this movie, let us just say circumstances offered me the perfect opportunity to watch this violent and unrelenting drama and I as an adolescent felt only the excitable nervous tingle and expectancy level of being offered a ‘metaphorical’ adults only premise of which said adults would surely forbid (and surely had every right too!) However child curiosity, innocence of the world and an unmitigated ignorance and lack of moral understanding and developed judgement toward many aspects of life at that time became the driving force toward this risky journey. It often helped those awkward delicate moments when surrounded and amongst the security of (my protectors) and its group mentality, which often mixed with a bravado on behalf of this then ten year old (cocky) upstart child whom at this point in his young life was regularly hanging out with people I considered (still do to this day) a very cool older group/gang of friends. The result was I would often be offered the opportunity of a more exciting recipe of daily adventure while in tow of said elder friends. It was inevitable was it not that my social growth would advance much faster than normal convention warranted and certainly much quicker than it really should have at times. Such kinship often meant dealing with large amounts of youthful exuberance and occasional wrong doing! The latter often the path of choice if truth be told. Look… I have well documented in previous conversations and hinted at in other reviews that sometime during 1976? which would make me ten years of age, I am afraid that under any justifiable circumstance that is (anyway you look at this course of events), way… way too young for a child to be watching films the likes of Jeff Lieberman’s – “Squirm”, 1976 or Tobe Hooper’s – “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”, 1974. Also note that unlike today, back then there was a massive cultural difference in both childhood experiences and the acceptability of what horror movies represented for the masses at that time and what would soon after transpire and ultimately redefine the accessibility of horror movie culture on the back end of that decade. Until the exciting and new video age came along this kind of cinema was not the freely available and accessible material allowed or viewed today? This was a totally unrecognisable movie market set in a background and cultural infancy regarding accessibility to such material back then as compared to what passes in today’s instant movie availability, e.g. quick DVD/Blu-ray release dates or the increase in streaming, Video on Demand (VOD). The current form of the genre market has changed beyond all recognition and therefore you must consider the different emotional attachment and mindset of people back in the UK of the 1970’s, (especially that of a minor).
Despite everything… and though it may seem strange for many to comprehend, I personally still thank fate that home cinema back in 1976 on this particular occasion came in the rare form of two brothers – my friends having a Super 8mm – 16mm? home projector at their disposal, that and a large white wood chip chimney wall of their terraced house bedroom, which in turn became a cinema screen full of terrifying imagery. Included in such a cornucopia of cinematic extravaganza’s came such film titles and cover artwork boxes that you could do nothing other than marvel at. These were movies with taglines like that of “Squirm” – 1976, which read: This was the night of the CRAWLING TERROR! The cover of Squirm featuring a human skull and crawling within its eye socket a large monstrous worm (… and not a snake as you initially think?) “The Jaws of Death”, 1976 that stated – SHEER TERROR! Filmed without the benefit of cages, mechanical sharks or other protective devices. Better known to many as (“MAKO: The Jaws of Death”) whose illustrated artwork again implied something far seedier and potentially more ferocious than Spielberg’s (MAGNIFICENT) Jaws, 1975. My first viewing of “The Deathmaster” double bill: “Count Yorga Vampire”, 1970 and “The Return of Count Yorga”, 1971 (all wonderfully packaged) came as a result of this period of home cinema also.
The one film in this potential boxed utopia on this occasion held no distinguishing film cover artwork nor tagline the day of my introduction to this treasure trove of cinema where projector reels housed in nothing more than a thin elongated dark brown, tattered, dog eared box which upon closer inspection someone had simply placed a piece of white tape across the front and written in smudged black Biro the word ‘TEXUS’. (wrongly spelt!) Appropriately with the missing tagline on this occasion. In the case of its eventual distribution and packaging reveal some years later and in its accessible rediscovery, Hooper’s masterpiece would become synonymous with what this film came to represent – not just regarding the fate of the films interior victims but the irony if we can call it such, then… “Who will survive and what will be left of them?” tagline, which personally became pretty apt after the first time I viewed this horror movie, as I like the majestic Marilyn Burns – Sally Hardesty suffered a fate of terror and thereafter did indeed survive despite the odds?
“Come on Eric, you cannot seriously compare the extreme fate of a fictional character with that of a child’s reality?” My immediate response would be a categorical “yes you can!” and at the time of ‘Chain Saw’s’ release the opening narration wonderfully implied that a (real life) reality lay behind this movie? With that uneasy backdrop becoming firmly ensconced on the mind of minor and with such information being scarce (that day) back in the ’70’s regarding this movie and what was available to watch or indeed as this case in point notes, no information whatsoever regarding such a tale, be that ‘fact or fiction’. For a child and teens alike who themselves hid their true fears, this film had an aura of great apprehensive anticipation hanging around its false but realistic economy and the less genuinely known on initial contact with this movie the more it compelled the senses to exaggerate matters beyond the discomfort of its eventual viewing. It would not be until many years later and its eventual but all too brief appearance on video cassette and its availability in video rental shops that Hooper’s movie splendour would be rediscovered and once again obtain and garnish its old reputation thanks to the (Nasties period of the 1980’s). In doing so its distributors simply offered it a new audience, thus making matters much clearer regarding confirmation of the movies new power of mass accessibility and its instant appeal that would soon cause it a greater outright controversy.
“Home cinema of the 1970’s”
On my original first viewing of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” the worst of all inner fears would surface and become foremost after the event, the more this film personally grew in infamous stature toward that then gathered audience of ’76, whom had been unprepared for such an onslaught of unrelenting movie terrors, those terrors escaping that brown dog-eared box and subsequently pestered indefinitely the working class suburban attributes of a 10-year old child. That is what this review is all about. This review is a therapy of sorts. I want not only to finally cleanse and exorcise my childhood soul of any serious stirring monsters but also rid myself of any remaining misgiving and guilt I obtained during that time in my life, including the real time nightmares that followed because of my own foolish actions. I want to review this true horror movie optimity in a way that often deals with personal thoughts rather than just another full on review of any old movie (of which there must be thousands out there in the worlds ‘blogger-osphere’). Listen I have paid in full my dues for my own stupidity in the form of being consumed by the films power and pull and for the longest of time kept this particular event in my life a secret from my unknowing parents, who would have most certainly disapproved (… of the boundary crossed and broken). It was not until well into my early teen years that I finally confessed my secret to my father which came about one night while finally watching ‘Chain Saw’ for the first time together on a rented video copy of the film, this coming in the same evening my father watched the film for the first time and he too had been shaken witless by its ferocity also, (fact!). The personal history stacked behind this film is clear and is the real reason why I hold this movie close to my genre heart and as I have just explained why it is still my favourite horror film of all time, that despite its continual plague on me for many years after initial consumption.
***WARNING, MASS SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT***
“The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”. – John Larroquette (Narrator).
AUGUST 18, 1973
The movie takes mere seconds for a reveal of what can be best described as someone in the midst of creating a form of psychotic art, (as we will soon witness), this coming courtesy of a unidentified character whom must be nothing other than insane. Firstly we hear a spade digging into the earth. You can hear the heavy breathing followed by the act of someone seemingly reopening coffins, this unseen antagonist labouring hard at his task. (Believed to be Tobe Hooper experimenting with recording various sound and effects?) A camera bulb ignites, releasing what is a brief spurt of light. The darkness is momentarily lit up revealing the grotesqueness of the sordid task in hand. Visions of a badly decomposed body intermittently light up the screen then darkness falls once more, soon after another click of the camera once more illuminates the darkness and the decomposition of a dead body is once again revealed.
We are finally met with the early light of day. Dawn rises and a mist moves ghost like across the backdrop of a large cemetery graveyard and reveals a moment which can be best described as the ultimate act of shocking desecration. A voice breaks across this grisly vision and a radio broadcaster begins his early morning news commentary as the films director pans back, revealing the sickening magnitude of a monstrous act and what has taken place in all its terrible glory.
At this point of a review I would now go on to pursue a warts and all text of characterisation and storyline and I will continue to do so but as everyone in the world of analysis and personal retrospect and blog representation has already undertaken this task, instead what I would like to do here is go straight into highlighting most of this movies amazing cinematic moments, moments that make ‘Chain Saw’ quite indefatigable in mood, imagery and acting supremeness throughout it duration and established by all cast members assembled, however small or big their contribution and presence. I will also occasionally interlope into the review and try to rediscover and explain the emotions felt as the child I was when I first watched this movie.
Radio broadcast by news reader: “Grave robbing in Texas is this hours top news story. An informant led officers of the Bartow Sheriff’s Department to a cemetery just outside the small rural Texas community of Newt (Neut) early this morning. Officers there discovered what appeared to be a grisly work of art, the remains of a badly decomposed body wired to a large monument, a second body was found in a ditch near the perimeter of the cemetery, subsequent investigation as revealed at least a dozen empty crypts and it’s feared that more will turn up as the probe continues. Deputy’s report that in some instances only parts of the corpse had been removed, the head or in some cases the extremities removed, the remainder of the corpse left in tact. Evidence indicates the robberies have occurred over a period of time. Sheriff Jesus Maldonado refused to give details in the ghoulish case and said only that he did have strong evidence linking the crime to elements outside the state. Area residents have reportedly been converging on the cemetery, fearing the remains of relatives have been removed. No suspects are in custody as the investigation at the scene continues”.
A deep reaching red and black filtered imagery is offered forward in a magnified shot form. The Suns powerful explosive furnace surface is revealed in the films opening title sequence. A cacophony of uncontrolled cymbal crashing and what sounds like an early distorted electronic score introduces other echoing percussion instruments into the mix, they become a discharge of noise which sounds like the soulless humming voice of an imaginary choir of the damned, all crying out in symmetry with an orchestral disorganisation as background, all this sound anthemically stumbles forward amongst a clattering noise of captured fear. The radio broadcaster though now faded into the background continues on with the other (morbid and unabated) news items of the day, while we (the audience) in return immediately attempt to understand this remorseless, eerie, disturbing musical score by Wayne Bell and the films director Tobe Hooper. This hellish sound has not just unhinged we the viewer but also denotes that this so called musical interlude from hell will become a perfect representation of what will be the rest of the movie in terms of both interpretation and impact and for that reasoning alone is seamlessly pitch perfect in what it sets out to achieve in an incredible opening cementing of sound and visionary mood for a movie of such forthcoming notoriety. The massive foreboding expectation and the manner in which the opening imagery hits we the viewer hard, leaves us with a laryngeal prominence – Adam’s apple bobbing up and down like an uncontrollable bouncing ball as the throat achingly tightens and the tongue searches for spittle in order to lubricate your dry and breathless mouth and you suddenly become very uncomfortable. Be in no doubt as it was in my case, (that child!) I was now completely pinned to my seated position and left drained of energy and also terrified at the forthcoming prospect of having to endure the next (unknowing) 80+ minutes of what seemed a lifetime come the movies shocking conclusion, all its unfurling terrors hitting your now insecure senses at a pace only unique to Hooper’s seminal opening masterpiece.
Even the moments after the movies dark toned beginnings cease, you are unknowingly left in a state of great unease has to where we the audience are heading as we are met with an immediate melodramatic meet and greet of five of the stories centralised characters, all of which will highlight this days strange and ominous time to come! The story begins when the group have pulled over to the roadside. Note: dead armadillo care of Robert A. Burns. (Crunchy on the outside, taxidermised on the inside!) Here we are introduced to Franklin Hardesty – Paul A. Partain, a wheelchair bound young gentleman, who is also shall we say… a little extrovert, if not constantly whiny throughout the film, (rightly so on occasion, but in other moments just annoying to the point of frustration), which is also noted by the group as the day lurches forward. The character Franklin is an integral part of the plot (linchpin) and despite both initial sympathy and despair in equal measure, throughout Partain’s performance, we will become quite fascinated at our own toleration of this physically restrained journeyman. The director is quick to point out the lack of social grace and concern (on occasion) highlighted in the communal apathy toward this young man and his plight – under the accompanying disability of his character and has perceived by those he shares this trip with, be that his own sister or the people considered his close friends? The events that follow which include Franklin relieving himself in an early scene in which such a basic premise of bodily function becomes the first dramatic occurrence of the movie also heavily hints that this journey is in all probability jinxed from the offset.
One uncontrolled roll down a hill in a wheelchair later, we now enter a scene in which Marilyn Burns – Sally Hardesty is seen at the cemetery that has witnessed the recent incidents of desecration. She along with Franklin are there in search of information regarding grandfather Hardesty and ‘this grave situation’, (“see what I did there Ed!”… “Stop that right now you dickhead!”) In this seemingly innocuous moment Hooper in his direction somehow manages to make the initial nervous disposition and social gathering and integration hint at an undercurrent of something wretched slowly surfacing upon the horizon as this perceived world of the director begins to add an element of mass unease which soon starts drip feeding into the cemetery visit moments. From a local drunk sprawling upon the ground and spouting nonsensical tales, to the many gathered at this location looking on with a certain social sense of reticence toward what is after all a rather abnormal situation, which provided by Hooper’s hand is quite extraordinary in creating a tense atmosphere, simply adds a sudden build up of paranoia and apprehension which seems to emanate as those around almost create an uncomfortable false contractual benevolence and concern, well you the viewer begin to sense a hidden false grace, making this particular event almost seem like an abnormal ‘day-out’, a gathering that hides possible deceit? Incidentally note that this kind of social paranoia plays an even bigger part in Hooper’s later sequel, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II”, (1986).
“Nubbins by name, monster by nature”
The introduction of Edwin Neal as the Hitchhiker (… he with the naughty child like inference and attributes?) is simply flabbergasting and I will say this… never ever has a film introduced such a fundamentally flawed, distorted and socially unacceptable (and what will be later on in proceedings the revealing of a sociopaths, maniacal character) in such a manner, that by the moment of his eventual expulsion from the travelling groups van will you have ever met such an iconic but repugnant and despicable cinema creation as Edwin Neal’s terrifying, lanky, birth-marked deviant, which is quite a fete considering the major iconic figure (… “let’s not mention him just yet?”) of this movie and then extend the possibility of one, nay two additional members to the fold plus Robert A. Burns glorious and notorious living organic backdrop companion depositing a social spectrum of disturbing proportions. All this for the price of one movie and never before has there been such a precise alignment in savage deeds and infamous movie presence and villainy? Talk about Multifaceted value. This like many of the movies sum total and parts is absolutely meticulous in design and portrayal. Neal’s entrance also denotes to you the observer that surely such reprehensible behaviour can not be matched in character overtures… “well you would be wrong?” This moment alone offers forward what many genre movies (if any) have never matched and have frequently failed to reproduce in ‘Co-operative’ alliance since. The film only moments in has already taken the innocence of ‘the normal’ youthful group vibe as seen prior to the hitchhikers violent introduction, and has then in turn negotiated only a period of time that will have a dramatic fate written in the alignment of astrological stars and a greater amount of event filled negativity to come. See: Teri McMinn – Pam, for her “star signs and retrogrades” and you will soon understand what is outlined in what will undoubtedly be the path ahead?
The moments after the unprovoked violent attack upon Franklin by the mysterious and frightening hitchhiker and with the immediate need for fuel, the group stop at a local service station manned by an unusual welcoming committee that consists of a strange almost robotic, lobotomised looking windscreen cleaner and the service station owner, one Jim Siedow – The Cook. (Later on and one Tobe Hooper sequel later we come to know him better as Drayton Sawyer). The station attendant tells the travellers that he is out of gas (no delivery of supply) and after further discussions with the menfolk of the group, Jerry – Allen Danzinger and Kirk – William Vail the attendant in a friendly but uneasy manner seems to indicate the lack of neighbourly courtesy that is often in short supply in “these parts” and warns the group off making their intended visit to the old Franklyn/Hardesty family homestead. it is only when Franklin indicates that the property belongs to his Father does the attendant for a final time and in horror movie time honoured tradition, once again advice against making such a journey? We are left at this juncture in no doubt that Jim Siedow’s character on initial inspection seems like a man who shows again that ‘local to these parts’ omnipresent undertow earlier noted in the cemetery scene and denotes something strangely uncomfortable which seems to be hidden behind an initial show of concern on his behalf, especially his curious concern toward the safety of both Sally and Pam in particular. We will shortly get back to Mr Siedow and what is for me (personally) probably the greatest of all the ‘Chain Saw clan’, including the movie – and one of the worlds most iconic horror creations.
During the next several minutes of screen time we witness the group finally arriving at the neglected, ramshackled homestead. This event immediately invokes childhood memories for the Hardesty members of the group. This moment also plants various conversational and problematic seeds for Franklin in particular, as he chows down on some of ‘The Cooks’ fine barbecue sausage in frustration, he left lamenting in his fear at the days events thus far. As the able bodied of the group get a guided tour of the old homestead by Sally, Franklin is left downstairs to fester in a growing anger which Paul A. Partain portrays with brilliant ease. After several moments of hijinks of all but the exclusion of Franklin, both Kirk and Pam inquire as to where the old ‘swimming-hole’ that both Sally and Franklin mentioned and spent time at as children is located.
After Franklin offers the couple directions the two of them leave the rest of the group behind and go in search of this location for what they hope will be some private leisure time together. With directions followed and destination finally reached, what they find on arrival is nothing more than a dried-up gorge were once the swimming-hole had been. With disappointment obvious the couple suddenly become alerted to the distant sound of what they believe is the mechanised humming, possible running of fuelled generators? The walk to the opposite side of the dried-up gully reveals in the distance what seems to be a secluded farmhouse. As Kirk makes up a plan of action in order to seal a deal for hopefully obtaining some much needed gasoline for the van via an offer of his guitar and a couple of bucks as a down payment. The couple arrive at a dusty dirt track and begin a walk through a yard that includes what is best described as a number of outhouses and corrals, they hidden underneath camouflaged netting. Instead of livestock being present as often befits the area, what we find beneath however is not livestock but instead a great number of empty dust coated motor vehicles in different states of use and/or disrepair. At this strange discovery Pam becomes a little uncomfortable, slightly nervous at Kirks intentions, he tries to reassure her that everything will be okay. The couple finally reach the front of (the original) “La Frontera”. The large standout white wood panelled farmhouse.
The next few moments of this masterpiece are unravelled in such a way, that I compare the experience as that of a prolonged incident of drowning? You will not immediately understand the trouble you find yourself in until that moment of interior fear encapsulates you and as a result you are taken by total surprise and have no time to understand nor adjust to your own impending doom – in one faltering stroke of fate and no matter what attempts you make to rectify the grave situation. Not only is the suspense built up in little segments of camera angles and cutaways and then back to the moment in hand but the initial reassuring cosmetic surface beauty of the secluded homestead presence being set against a glorious blue sky backdrop which hangs above the property, momentarily shows an iydillic moment rather than potential woe perhaps? The physical tension seemingly building in Pam in particular seems begins to note a growing frustration and unease. As Kirk climbs the several porch steps toward the front door of the property, he knocks on the wooden doorframe while enquiring if anyone is home, his communicative effort receives no response, he then briefly turns about and in the process kicks something beneath his foot. Kirk quickly notices that he has inadvertently kicked what on closer hand held inspection is actually a human tooth with pronged root and a filling atop of it. In a bout of mischief Kirk sees his now stressed-out girlfriend who is currently sat upon the steps with head bowed in hands as a prime opportunity to play a prank. Kirk then announces “I’ve got something for you?” Pam holds out a hand, Kirk then places the discarded tooth into his girlfriends outstretched palm. Pam now rises up in anguish, discards said molar tooth and then begins screaming back toward Kirk bemused, she simply replies in anger and great frustration “… let’s go!” and walks off, she heads toward a distant rickety swing seat opposite the front of the house. By this time Kirk in his infinite wisdom (… if only he knew?) pulls back the screen door and once again knocks on the door, his knock on this occasion making the inner front door swing open. After a number of ‘hello’s’ and the addition of Pam from the position of her seat once again shouting toward her boyfriend a request, “Kirk… let’s go!” He once again turns back toward the door in front of him, he taps the door frame and again shouts down the darkened hallway, “hello… hello, anybody there?” As Kirk looks down the right side of the hallway, he sees at the end of it another open doorway and beyond it there is a scarlet painted wall, upon it there are many variations of animal skulls of many varying shapes and sizes, all looking back in trophied silence. Kirk hears the sudden sound of what he/we believe is an animal (probably a pig squealing?) from beyond the door ahead. He takes one last look at his girlfriend sat upon the swing seat before finally entering the house and in quick strides approaches the opening past the staircase, down the wood panelled corridor before him. On one side full cow hides hang from the wall and a curtained off area to the left is noted. As Kirk reaches the doorway he inadvertently trips upon the small ramp placed in the door-well. As he briefly tries to re-establish his loss of balance, he quickly looks up at something that suddenly catches his eye-line. Before he can even react, a large hulk of a man fills the framework of the doorway. This terrifying vision of inhumanity wears a mask (of human flesh?) and has thick black curled hair. Underneath the dirtied (bloodied?) apron he wears a white short sleeved shirt, flapping loosely across the apron is a black kipper tie with a white patterned print adorning it. The behemoth figure in front of Kirk raises up his right arm, in his hand is a wood handled metal headed mallet which without hesitation he immediately brings down upon the strangers head. The sound of Kirk’s head being smashed by the impact sends Kirk falling in between the door-well and the large man. This uncontrolled aggression happens incredibly fast and at this point we the audience are not offered any time at all to consider or adapt to the ramifications of this sudden violent act. The stunned and nerve twitching induced body of Kirk convulses at the resulting head trauma (as one likely would?) We briefly see the victims legs begin to spasm and thrash around before this monolithic aberration grabs a hold of Kirk, hits him one final time and then drags the human carcass out of the doorway not before pulling and slamming shut what is a three panelled metal grated shutter across the door frame. This happens in seconds but seems a shocking eternity. A thick low pitch electronic bass sound accompanies this frenetically paced event as the sealing off of the metal door shuts away the horrendous act of horror just displayed. This was the very moment when horror movies where redefined forever after. The moment in which Gunnar Hansen – Leatherface aka Bubba Sawyer appeared on screen for the very first time, though initially very briefly. It was also the moment that this then Mancunian child’s blood rushed through his veins like a freezing breeze. The goosebumps arrived and breath was hard to find momentarily. “What just happened?”
Just as the audience tries to catch new breath and with the movies first homicide 34 minutes into what has already been an uneasy ride pre-death and with thoughts now in complete tatters, Tobe Hooper’s introduction to the world of one of the great iconic figures of modern horror cinema was finally born.
Hooper cuts from the scene of murder and with the roar of the same electronic sound still manoeuvring in the background we are immediately offered a stewing intensity as the director without a drop in heartbeat immediately offers an alternative vision to the violence as he now turns his attention toward Pam who is at this time still sat on the swing seat, in the sunlight and intense heat of the day. With Pam now becoming more inquisitive at this time, more in the sudden notion of slight trepidation and unease rather than her initial anger toward Kirk she now calls out her partners name once more…“Kirk”. With no response reciprocated she now rises up from her seat. What Tobe Hooper does here with this moment of simple routine is apply a wonderful long shot camera frame from behind the Pam character, she looking forward and toward the house in its vast construction and the glorious blue sky and fluffy white cloud which hover above the sloping roof. What you may also note if you watch carefully is the distance from swing chair toward the house seems to have widened in distance, probably offering you a scale of peaceful tranquility that belies what has just occurred within the confines of this picturesque and scenic, nothing untoward view of a property and its tree-lined grounds. What this genius moment also does is once again build-up that immediate sudden notion of dread and fear as all you want to do as a result of your audience participation and Hooper toying with your emotions, is elect yourself the opportunity to hail toward the Pam character, “do not walk toward the house? Instead just run for your life?”
Even though in that moment you again realise that Pam has not been subjected to what you have witnessed and furthermore has no idea that her boyfriend as just been brutally but efficiently dispatched by a giant beast of mankind. Pam begins to climb the steps of the porch and begins to looks through the screen doors – dusty insect filter, she then calls out for her boyfriend. Pam for the first time looks through the doorway and what lies beyond the threshold to what has just become hell on earth unbeknownst to her. “Please don’t go into the house” you once more suggest but again the reality is that she will cross the threshold into this terrible place as she searches for Kirk.
The sudden draw of an uncharacteristic sound of an unspecified apparatus turning over as metal traction manoeuvres and tracks across other metal parts becomes a mysterious sound that now has Pam curious. Reluctantly she finally enters the premises and walks to the left side of the corridor not before noting the sealed metal door directly ahead. Lay across the walls to her left are hung a number of animal hides. Slightly perturbed but curious as to her boyfriends whereabouts. She turns and enters a room that has a curtained partition, which covers her in brief darkness, it is only the split in-between the gap of hanging material that some form of light emanates. As she pulls back the curtain and walks forward she is immediately sent stumbling into a tinned ornamental pot that then sends her falling into the closed off room beyond. Pam lands on her haunches, she/we note immediately the disturbance of her falling motion now fills the air with an explosive mixture of bird feathers and particles of dust. Pam is then quickly forced into noting her sudden surroundings (masterfully created by Robert A. Burns). Both a mass of feathers and animal bone strewn the floor around her. She looks upwards to note a white hen has been placed in a birdcage built for a tiny pet bird only! The compacted hen has begun to cluck at the sudden disturbance. The thick bass sound of the movies electronic score once again cranks-up and like the debris filled air begins to loom like an ominous presences. Pam becomes firmly transfixed upon the abnormality of seeing the hen cooped up in the tiny black cage. Her mouth begins to quiver with fear as she now looks down and between wood flooring and bended knees she begins to consume the full visual horror of what she has stumbled upon. As the continued thick coating of feather debris floats around her she also begins to notice an assortment of many teeth, fangs, antlers and eventually the skeletal bones of a human foot and leg, shin-bone. As the camera scans upwards looking at the disturbing visions through the perspective of what Pam is now identifying. It becomes glaringly obvious, even to the layman that she has identified the skeletal remains of a human foot attached to its lower leg. We note they have been deliberately attached to a wooden frame which is painted in a thick black gloss coating. As we reach the viewpoint of the right hand side of the seat frame we see a human spine perched ornamentally on a side table. We then note lying across the seats arm rest, someone as attached the skeletal remains of a human hand with lower and upper arm bones still connected. As we reach the back of the seating we note the skull of an animal with fangs, (dog perhaps?) As the director pans away from offering us only glimpses of what Pam is now witnessing at first hand, Hooper in direction then opens frame and angle in wide shot. The reveal is altar like as we finally get to see the rooms central window illuminate the wooden bench which is outlined with other varying intermingled pieces of human and animal bone structured features. The centre piece of this altar furnishing from hell is what on closer inspection seems to be two upper arms facing upright with shoulder blades still attached and centralised to them are two rib bones, atop of them lie a human skull. To the right edge of the bench backrest is a small alligator skull that artistically complements the dog skull sentinel opposite. As Pam whom we imagine is now in deep shock begins to turn her head in degrees of increasing fear she sees an empty turtle/tortoise shell hanging down from the ceiling on string, (like some kind of freakish, extreme version of a babies mobile) with its toy like accoutrements replaced instead with human bones bayoneted through one another. A human hand bone hangs down accompanied by what seems to be that of a child’s (baby) skull, this having an animal horn shoved into the agape jawbone. The pieces to this ironic monstrosity begin to swing too-and-fro as a result of the turbulent air caused by the entrance of the terrified girl. The source of light through the window highlights the fact that Pam would at this moment prefer to be baking in the Texas heat rather than witnessing this atrocity exhibition in its self contained catacomb of horror. A basket sits in one corner of the room, it is crammed full to overflowing with an assortment of animal jaw bones, thigh bones, pieces of broken spine and again a human skull is noted. A table is laid full of more human skulls and again a mass of other collected bones. As Pam now begins to become nauseated she begins to cough and heave heavily at the shock of what surrounds her, we also notice at this point of Pam’s emotional on-screen deconstruction, a lamp stand which reveals upon it a still fully fleshed amputated human arm attached. Panic now sets in and Pam rises up from the floor while still in the throes of vomit induced hysteria. On terrifying instinct alone she attempts to make for the exit and escape the stifling conditions that she currently inhabits. As she heads for her freedom and begins walking on jellied legs, she makes her way into the hallway once more. The metal door behind her is suddenly and without warning and great speed pulled open. Pam turns as a large ominous masked freak makes a guttural animalistic sound and charges toward the disorientated girl, she can do nothing other than scream out in sheer terror, turn and then make for the front door as Leatherface now goes in pursuit of her. Just as Pam reaches the door and makes it onto the porch outside the massive apron clad figure grabs her up in his thick arms and lifts her from the ground, grabbing her up like a child with a doll. Pam again screams out in fright and with arms and legs thrashing and flailing around she is carried back into the house by her pursuer. This giant man now carries her past the wall of death and into a room beyond, at the right of turn they enter what is in essence the kitchen but on closer inspection has a greater resemblance befitting an abattoir and what looks to be a backdrop that contains dried bloodstains which are speckled and splashed in great sways across the back wall which seem to be decorated with strips of butcher’s paper. Pam’s screaming becomes even louder as she is suddenly confronted with a large wooden head-frame (gibbet) which upon it hang two large industrial meat hooks. Her terror suddenly becomes even more palpable as she now surely realises what in all probability will be her horrendous fate. Leatherface nonchalantly lifts Pam upward and then without hesitation he spikes the girls backbone upon one of the meat hooks. Pam now whimpers in laboured decibels of high pitched sound that have now turned from terror to added agony. Leatherface now turns away and looks at the body of what had been in life Kirk, a sight that the now long suffering Pam now has a full panoramic view of. Beside the laid out corpse we see by its side a table mounted manual meat grinder. Pam continues to scream out her agonies at both the pain and in all probability having to also witness her dead boyfriend spread out upon the butchers table which you would realistically imagine would simply add to her continued agony and torment. The prolonged situation of both excruciating pain and psychological trauma becomes an unrelenting endurance test of untold horror and seeing the hulking Leatherface in a state of slight unease and anger as he grunts and bashes about in the kitchen come abattoir must add to this sudden look into insanity and the obvious impending doom that must attach itself to this crazy moment. This unrelenting scene of mayhem ends as Leatherface finally reaches for his infamous tool of choice which will in future cinematic terms define and stand synonymous in not just famed title but as a major horror effigy of fear that has since come to represent mainstream horror in many forms. Our killer grabs his chain saw and fires it up and with this act the dread level suddenly accelerates as the motorised sound ignites and your sympathy for the cruelly, long suffering of Pam increases ten-fold as she now has to watch the monster begin to cut up her boyfriends cadaver like he’s cutting up an animal carcass for so much meat! The screams of Pam increase once more but are soon cut out as Leatherface raises up his weapon above his head and then thrusts the full throttle chain saw downward. Hooper immediately cuts away from the carnage as the screams and the chain saw’s motorised melody are quickly replaced by the outer façade of the farmhouse of horror, its surrounding acreage being once more highlighted from distance, while we are left to understand that inside the distant postcard imagery of the outside world, suddenly differs greatly to the madness inside the building where the actions of an animalistic man have just unravelled, he having no qualms about the killing that as just ceremonially taken place. Instead of aggressively thrusting these interior horrors forward by allowing the audience to indulge and survey the carnage, we the observer of this banality are left to ponder what horrors in-particular for the captured Pam continue inside that distant farmhouse.
This opening onslaught of death, cruelty and torture is the prime example of what defines the originality of ‘Chain Saw’ from any other contemporaries of the genre. The film plays tricks on its audience with magicianship comparable to ‘slight of hand’. Not only does what as just taken place in the two incidents work with an effectiveness unparalleled in terms of believing you visualised more bloody and graphically portrayed violence than was actually visually offered up but these illusions are indeed what make Tobe Hooper’s masterful direction in this case work so brilliantly. He is one of the few in the history of genre orientated work that offers up less and yet in doing so provides you with an emotional level of there being so much more than you think you have just in fact witnessed. The fact is ‘Chain Saw’ compared to its subsequent sequel and optional remakes is quite unspectacular in terms of providing gallons of the red stuff! Hooper’s masterpiece is a massive skillful act of psychological illusion and the director is indeed the ultimate magician. Dare I say it… but does Hooper with this movie even surpass the suspense filled world of the master himself, one Alfred Hitchcock. You will probably have to argue that he does indeed take that deep routed aspect of Hitchcockian methodology and positions it in a much darker place, which in turn pays out dividends that Hitchcock would have had to admire. Why have I used Alfred Hitchcock to highlight this significant point? The answer is simple, when Hitchcock made his black and white masterpiece ‘Psycho’, 1960, all the new hallmarks that he set when he made his glorious ground-breaking movie at the beginning of that decade is exactly what Hooper does here with ‘Chain Saw’. What Hooper produces is/was indeed the next level of endeavour and creativity that you imagined would springboard future film makers to look for that next plateau of genuine genre originality. What we have had instead in large part have simply been acts of cloning large amounts of unoriginal, recycled underachievement, often prosaic of subject matter and little new in the way of enhancing or extending said ‘genuine originality’ as some of the genre greats had done previous and up to this point. The Hitchcockian connection also brings together strands of subject matter that include Robert Bloch’s character Norman Bates in ‘Psycho’ and obviously Leatherface whom are both characters heavily based and influenced by real historical events that occurred during the early part of the 1950’s with the tale of America’s own, The Plainfield Ghoul – Edward Theodore “Ed” Gein. See: Jeff Gillen, Alan Ormsby Co-Directed, (…and will be afforded future TCMR treatment as befits such a cult classic) Deranged: “Confessions of a Necrophile”, 1974. Or alternatively there is Chuck Parello’s, Ed Gein: “In The Light of The Moon”, 2000, which though less effective is nonetheless still a very affable, very watchable movie effort.
With the movies opening slaughter now forever engrained in the permanence of horrors cinematic enclave and featuring what is undoubtedly one of the true great iconic horror creations unravelled in the guise of ‘Leatherface’, who appears upon the screen like an unstoppable doomsday machine, what Hooper achieves thereafter will be the continued psychological aesthetic onslaught not only in a further restrained and tactfully poised manner but the continued disturbing balance of build up and then the sheer unrelenting torment that will follow with degrees of increased horror gusto is what he ultimately attains in his and (Co-writer) Kim Henkel’s storytelling and like no other genre movie since as anyone been able to replicate or be comparably matched in result. The very impressive backdrop of structured storyline is also highlighted like no other horror movie since in regard of the differing plights of the two different world view perceptions and cultural disparity which will shortly collide and come to the fore despite the further barbarity that will follow-up on what has already dramatically unfolded. Hooper’s detailed attachment to the obvious dysfunction of (both) families and their biological ties does quickly give way to the extreme difference in interaction and social convention between the bickering Hardesty’s and the reprehensible behaviour of the Sawyer’s which will soon be thrown into a mix of what is to be the movies totally unique and concerted effort in highlighting the great social misnomer on behalf of the two opposing poles apart family backgrounds which are about to entangle with not just each other but will analytically widen the great chasm between the family grouping, (one side as victims the other as perpetrators) and their considered way of life. Firstly however there is the matter of missing people and those left behind who are now becoming concerned for those absent?
Back at the camper van tensions become heightened as Franklin’s paranoia now gains a momentum, his continued whining commentary begins to only aggravate the situation. The Jerry character in his frustration now begins playing on, even provoking matters by using the famous “their coming to get you!” premise, (inspired by what genre film Barbara?) Jerry’s impatience begins to wear thinner and as his eventual rebuttal toward Sally is left firmly echoing in her ears, he goes off in search of their friends. He leaves Sally in the company of her annoying and frustrated brother, with his increasing sense of unrest and the aching memento of a wound earlier sustained courtesy of a total stranger which only highlight and intensifies Franklin’s growing concern. ‘The Family’ cycle of aggravation and susceptibility will soon reach boiling point and will reveal in full the frustration of not just Jerry as the outsider to the family unit but this moment will also highlight Sally’s interaction with Franklin which shows clear signs of a deep routed animosity which yet again creeps uneasily into brotherly and sisterly love respectively, a fact doubtless created over a period of time and their coexistent lives. It is quiet brilliant how Tobe Hooper keeps this long standing suppressive build and emotional charge festering like an infected sore that needs to be scratched.
‘So what about Jerry?’ those unfamiliar with this film “… yeah right!” are now asking? Well after taking the same journey as his friends whom he has now gone in search of, he too will eventually find his way to the infamous white farmhouse and he too is also temporarily halted upon the front porch, where the trail concludes and the evidence makes available the notion that his two friends have indeed visited this very place as the couples towel hangs over the porch banister. Again as before and in the case of the first two victims a sound coming from inside the building attracts the attention of Jerry and he too makes the fatal mistake of entering the house, this time he under the misapprehension that his two friends are playing some kind of prank. After some study and growing apprehension Jerry finally reaches the doorway at the far end of the hallway. He begins to note the ‘wall of death’ directly facing him. It is a suppressed thumping sound that now starts to alert him and attract his attention? He heads toward where the sound seems to be emanating. What follows in the mere seconds that it takes to immerse this character in this tension built scene also begins to provide we the audience with that massive surge of unease as we become exposed into a scene that like most of this movies set-ups immediately begin to create a dramatic apprehensive build that is hard to take in the sheer forward-motion of matters, we the audience by this time firmly knowledgeable of what lingers somewhere in the shadows, waiting, observing and ready to pounce. Jerry begins to scan the kitchen and quickly notes his surroundings. Jerry suddenly becomes distracted by the resumption of that thumping sound which he quickly notes is coming from the large, dirty chest freezer. In the seconds of disbelief, hesitation and fear that enter Allen Danziger’s characterisation, it takes a terrifying anticipating double take from his Jerry character at the realisation that what he thinks may happen in preordainment and now obvious to the eye – second bout of the freezer top bouncing around as a result of ‘something’ inside wanting to escape what is normally a place to store food, suddenly elicits a tension built reaction from Jerry as to whether he should open up the freezer or not? Despite his misgivings Jerry suddenly surges forward and opens the freezer door? The “jack-in-the-box” reveal of a frozen but sudden reanimated Pam suddenly propels upward in a “Kermit the Frog” like introduction, sending the audience’s fears spiralling into elements of token disbelief as Hooper in amazingly fast and unrelenting fashion quickly dismisses your preconceptions and once more is unrelenting as he once again attacks the senses. Jerry unconditionally turns away from the freezer. Whether in a fit of fear or the natural notion of wanting to flee in the simple realisation that whomever has done such a thing could be lurking? All he wants to do is leave this place. From the kitchen doorway a war cry rings out and with no warning Leatherface launches forward and introduces Jerry to his world. Before he suffers the same fate as Kirk, Jerry reaches a high pitched scream of true terror as the hammer finally comes down upon his head. This scene was noted for “that shriek of terror” because apparently Allen Danziger had not seen Gunnar Hansen in his character regalia beforehand, thus noting that the set-up of this scene was Danziger’s first and his characters final few seconds of screen time for the movie. It is suggested that Danziger had been deliberately blindfolded prior to the shooting of this scene and with only directions and notes of how this particular act would unveil the moment would indeed be both a genuine and a fearful surprise. The result being that that horrifying scream of the Jerry character is nothing other than genuine terror on Danziger’s behalf.
NOTE: If you wish to go in to a more detailed, in-depth journey of how this masterpiece and why such scenes as described above became so infamous and famous then look no further than the “warts and all” supplement that is David Gregory’s, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth” ‘2000. This is undoubtedly still one of the best documentary accompaniments regarding… ‘the making of’ a movie and we here at TCMR strongly suggest that you include this in your retrospect of this cinematic master class of horror.
With Jerry now dispatched and Pam the loose “Jack-in-the-box” once again put back in the freezer, the end result of the latest slaughter culminates in the Leatherface character himself freaking out at what is obviously a continued invasion of the home by these unknown people. “What the hell is going on and where are all these people coming from?”
In a moment of frenzied contemplation Gunnar Hansen’s portrayal of Leatherface shows a psychopath trying to mediate between what is happening while asking other questions such as; will this plague of invaders into his world ever cease and logically and more to the point are their more to come as part of this human infestation. Hansen’s moment regarding his movie monsters exaggerated incarnation of Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” is striking to the point of emotional bleakness and only amplifies his characters outstanding issues, all this despite Leatherface being the movies remorseless killing machine and the fact that he too is indeed currently having a bad day to all intense and purpose. Despite his containment and methods of dispatch and his extraordinary performance in highlighting Leatherface and his punitive second nature, Hansen gives you a continued feeling that Leatherface would have much preferred an alternative end to his own confused plight and in time honoured ‘Scooby-Doo’ tradition both he (Leatherface) and we note, “If only those pesky kids hadn’t come nosing around?”
This moment with Hooper’s iconic figurehead also highlights the films second occurrence of child-like behaviour and ambiguity of what is otherwise a hulking adult character in both appearance and physical statement, a feature Hooper manipulates with all his characters many continuing traits and defining the thin line between what is deemed right or wrong in the perceived interactive world of someone foreign to normality which in the direction of Tobe Hooper makes for a terrifying and extreme distorted interpretation of human nature and what lies ahead in this exquisitely precise depicted powerhouse movie onslaught.
The second half of the movie will firmly turn toward the inevitable trials and tribulations of brother and sister Hardesty and also that of the coming together of the Sawyer clan in what will be their lunatic viewpoint and their warped idea of entertaining (un)invited guests to the fold. The film will also turn tact and become a full on drama consisting of prolonged and arduous ‘cat and mouse chase scenes, then capture and finally attempts at escape. Much of this coming in an increased, cold blooded, harder hitting way that captures the grinding out of a terrible ongoing non-cessation of tormenting assault as will become the case in point.
Darkness has fallen, five have become two and both Sally and Franklin are left in a state of limbo, unaware that their friends have been murdered by a maniac. We will also note in a few moments that the retention of the slaughter will for the first time seep outside the confines of the ‘white farmhouse’ and spill into the dark Texas evening. Sally and Franklin once more begin to argue with each other as they debate and surmise in antagonistic tones the whereabouts of their friends which has now reached a point of full blown concern. The exchanges between the Hardesty’s become close to unbearable as the speculation mounts and individual views collide in states of built-up frustration, panic and fearfulness. Franklin’s paranoia hits its peak and Sally’s patience evaporates like melting ice in the Texas sun and we are left with the siblings squabbling in disparaging, aggressive platitudes and exchanges. There is even a moment when Sally considers leaving her brother behind while she goes in search of their three friends, not before she forcefully attempts to take the torch from Franklin. When failing to do so she in a bout of anger begins to walk away. It is only Franklin’s panic stricken persistence that eventually brings his riled-up sister back from the brink of departure. After convincing Sally to take him with her, it is not long into their journey before the terrain and the fact that trying to push a heavily built invalid through such an assault course once again brings back the aggravation and anger in Sally’s deportment. Franklin’s wheelchair begins to dig deep into the dirt track, this once more halting what has already been slow progress. It is at this point that Sally’s continued protestations, retorts and rebuttals fall silent briefly as Franklin indicates he has just heard something/someone moving in the bushes that surround them. Franklin begins to shine the torch beam around the undergrowth in search of what has attracted his sudden attention. The answer to the question what is lurking in the darkness beyond soon becomes apparent and with great speed and fury the killer Leatherface leaps out in front of the couple and with chain saw ignited proceeds to carve into the wheelchair-user Franklin as Sally can only watch in sheer disbelief, terror and shock. This moment is also the first time that we actually see any notable blood-letting as the now spotlit Leatherface in his act of dissection receives a blood-spattered spray-back from his assault as the killer carves into Franklin.
Sally begins to flee from the scene and has no time to consider matters other than self preservation. Again Hooper leaves no respite for the Sally character to even think, she just simply acts upon impulse and quickly adapts to the grim climate Hooper has created for his victims and as of reality the measurement of time seems to produce only the real choices available in the emergence of that split second of unfolding events and decision making. There is no glamourising of matters and the chaos smashes into the audience like a whirlwind, making escape from the murderous event not just Sally Hardesty’s quest but you now run along side her in that real sense of desperation and the hope of survival. The directed simulation of the nightmarish chase and the sheer terror instilled in Marilyn Burns performance from this moment onward is nothing short of stunning. Every scream is noted every physical movement typifies the need to stretch that capability of taking any course of action in which to escape her pursuer. Not only is Sally now acting on adrenalin ascertained through the extremes of witnessing the surrealism of events but now you must add to that thought process that someone is chasing you while wielding a mechanical weapon but the spectacle of her pursuer in his terrifying get-up one imagines would inspire the hunted to reach that extra limit of self preservation no matter what obstacles are placed in the way. This is clearly defined in action as Sally now enters an area of bush and shrubbery that provide obstacles that poke, tear and entangle her hair and cut into her flesh as she looks for any suggestion of sanctuary from such an appalling act of brutality and pursuit. Note during this early scene in which her escape route seems to end and the sound and vision of Leatherface closing in on her seems to allow a modicum of doubt to suddenly creep in. Has Sally already accepted her sudden fate as she screams out her terrors? Her brief lapse of considered fate and momentary acceptance seems to disperse as she quickly gains second breath and once more attempts to make her way through the thickening thicket as the man in the mask cuts away at the branches in order to get to her. This moment of the chase may also indicate that Sally Hardesty is made of sterner stuff! Sally’s endeavour to escape offers her brief reward and at this stage of the chase she’ll accept any way to gain distance from the monster with the chain saw. A clearing suddenly appears, ahead she sees the light of a distant building. Still energised by the distant reminder of that nightmare sound of the revving of the saw keeps her fleet-footed as she is able to sprint with great effort despite now continually crying out in fear and in the probable hope that someone may hear her cries and come to her aid… “Not likely I am afraid!”
Sally finally reaches a local home… “looks familiar?” After unsuccessfully trying to gain access to the house via a side entrance and with the buzzing of the saw once again drawing ever closer she begins to look for another way in. Leatherface is once again close by and Sally can doubtless not just hear the saw turning over but can probably smell the emittance of the chainsaw fumes.
“Oh no…not that fucking porch again?”
Poor Sally as reached the front door to hell but as no alternative but to get inside and lock the door behind her. She stumbles into the house and very briefly takes a glance around. Both she and we see the now familiar hallway in darker tones. The steel shutter still seals off the slaughter room ahead. More animal pelts and hides hang across much of the wall space leading up the staircase. Sally stands at the foot of the hallway the background noise quickly reminding her of what is locked outside and on the opposite side of the door. “HELLLP” she screams as she sees no choice other than head for the stairs to her right. Leatherface in pursuit and seemingly undeterred by the locked door begins to saw through it as Sally finally reaches the upstairs landing. She passes the red banister and heads for the only room that is open to her. Not only will the absurdity that greets her as she stumbles tired and terrified by her ongoing ordeal into the room add to the climate of terror enveloping her but this moment will also offer even less in respite for the struggling Sally as the reveal of the rooms horrifying tenants sit unfazed by her pleas and screams, we the audience like poor old Sally are served up a vision of a new and twisted extension of unrelenting laden doom as Sally falls before the person in the chair that faces her directly. She is met by a figure who seems lifeless and somewhat pruned in facial expression as the result of great age one imagines. Is this suited grotesque octogenarian alive or dead? We have no time to answer that question as Sally in her continual never ending trauma filled imaginings is offered no cessation or momentary peace. She turns toward the second chair and placed in this is another figure. On this occasion however it is much clearer to note that this person is most definitely deceased, the wig upon its head also indicates this person may have been female in life? Even the pet by the corpses side sits in deathly skeletal obedience. One of the two lamps that adorn what is otherwise an empty room is framed by a human spinal columned decorative feature. Sally rises from the floor and now even more hysterical and desperate at the extension of this never ending madness that continually befalls her, she now runs back toward the landing. Despite the chain saw buzzing in the distance, Sally in a state of sheer panic stricken fear or now wandering on the periphery of the land of ‘non compos mentis’ heads back downstairs. Halfway down the stairs however Sally is once again met by the maniac who as finally broken through the door. With blooded apron and his guttural war cry in full mode he spots the girl in between a “rock and a hard place”. Leatherface rages, raises and then revs his weapon and begins to head upwards in pursuit of Sally. With no time to think of anything other than the notion to avoid the chain saw wielding aberration she immediately risks all and with a leap of desperation and it being her last resort she dives through the window that sits at the top of the staircase. It is only the branch of one of the trees on the way down that slows her fall. The sound of her collision with the ground as she hits it is quiet sickening and you can only imagine why such a course of action has provoked such necessity and great risk. This moment also creates what many other movies fail to achieve in their exploration of human extreme endeavour and the relationship between having to, wanting to, or needing to do nothing other than survive such chaos in all its unrelenting forms. Dizzied from her fall, the wind surely knocked from her and with a sustained injury to one of her ankles; again such misfortune of painful contemplation is offered no time in which to sink-in. The sound of the chain saw catches her immediate attention as she now looks upward from where she has just escaped. Through the debris of broken window and frame above she sees Leatherface looking down upon her, this is sufficient for Sally to rise and make haste. We the audience like Sally know that this terrible figure will not cease in his pursuit of her! Sally though clearly injured from the fall needs no reminder of her manic pursuer and begins a desperate dash back down the dirt track that once brought her to this false hope of possible sanctuary and protection from the monster now hunting her.
The majesty of Hooper’s unrelenting torment of his victim and the way in which the ‘cat and mouse’ pursuit is clearly defined is never more highlighted than in the next one-minute and forty-seconds of direction! During these several moments in which Sally is pursued by Leatherface we are afforded different angles of the hunter and the hunted transferred back and forth in visual outlets of differing perspectives. The hunter will not give ground and in doing so is clearly reluctant to let the girl escape for a second time. The second aspect of this wonderfully constructed extended pursuit clearly highlights the consistent sheer terror, pain and disbelief that Marilyn Burns in her performance as Sally is experiencing. Burns performance both here in this moment and throughout exudes all these emotional on-going and overwhelming aspects of desperation and even with her will to survive (which as already surely surpassed any expectations of inevitability?) The moment when Sally runs head-long into a thick tree branch that briefly knocks her senseless and with only what little is left of her dwindling supply of adrenalin filters through her broken and aching body does she once more reanimate despite being stunned. This also makes we the audience truly understand the tremendous strain and stress this girl is under as Leatherface makes a further swipe at her with his chain saw, he now standing monolithic above the recovering Sally. It is clear that Sally despite her screams and her faltering status will not yet succumb to this evil chain saw toting killer. Sally once again avoids the cut of the saw and quickly ducks beneath the off-balanced killer and is again allowed to run for her life, though sadly she has still been unable to steal a march upon the pursuing Leatherface. Recognising light ahead she now makes for a new destination, her inspiration obvious – as the deafening sound of the chain saw and its motorised sound spurt-out its unsettling fuel filled roar.
Sally finally reaches the wooden canopied block, a lengthy one storey building. As she runs down the frontage of the building she attempts to open the nearest accessible point but is refused entry. She quickly moves on as the chain saw revs in the distance. As Sally finally gained distance from Leatherface who it seems though still present as perhaps lost ground? Sally finally stumbles through the third door of the complex as we the audience note that she as reached the gas station that the group had earlier attempted to purchase fuel from. This is confirmed when the exhausted Sally falls past a familiar character onto the floor. Realising that this time she has been greeted by the gas station attendant, she finally releases her obvious exhausting build-up of terror in a hysterical tirade of guttural cries and garbled incomprehensive statements. The man tries to pick her up and calm her down as she begins to wildly grab and hit out at him. “Take it easy… take it easy!” the man begins to repeat as he attempts to calm the girl and understand both her panic stricken demeanour and her uncontrolled ramblings about the alleged death of her brother Franklin.
“Drayton Sawyer’s capture of Sally Hardesty”
Despite the glimmer of possible salvation and the fact that the lunatic with the chain saw has seemingly ceased in his pursuit of Sally; the man/saviour decides to take a peak outside while Sally still distraught and warbling relives her fear of the notion that at any second the man in the mask could come pouncing through the door. The gas attendant takes a cautious peak outside! Is the man looking around for both conformation or to simply gage the situation in the probable hope there is no longer anyone lurking outside as the girl as suggested in her ranting? Sally once again raises her fear level as the man now returns to her side and tries to reassure her that whomever was chasing her is no longer prowling. “There’s nobody out there now!” he replies as he once again attempts to calm and comfort the distressed girl. “Call the police” Sally asks the man. He replies. “There’s no phone here, we… we have to drive over to Childress… yeah! Now take it easy. Ill get the truck… take it easy, take it easy”.
As the man leaves the store momentarily to collect the pick-up truck Sally is left listening to the weather report on the radio followed by the news of the day which deals with yet more reports on the cemetery desecration incident which is being broadcast in the background. Still shaken and sobbing by her ordeal she begins to look around her surroundings. The room seems to be a utility come kitchen area. To the left side of Sally she now looks into a large built-in open oven. Hung down from the oven ceiling are rows of butchers rails and hooks, attached and cooking on them large cuts of meat and sausage which are slowly barbecuing as the dripping fat sizzles and cracks as the furnaced heat below cooks them. (What kind of meat?)
A white dented pick-up truck backs-up directly in front of the open doorway. The gas station owner gets out and walks around the truck to the passenger side. Before he opens the truck door he offers a cursory glance through the doorway and looks directly toward the sobbing girl. The façade shown moments earlier by Sally’s saviour as he attempted to console her, suddenly seems absent from this man’s demeanour which has been replaced by a look of great mistrust and a reveal of an implied uneasy cunning. This moment right here was not only the moment that seems to suggest to that Mancunian child (remember him!) a dark visual platitude of growing anguish on the mind of this already frightened viewer but it also inferred, if it was at all possible after what had gone before, that this re-introduction of Jim Siedow – The Cook, and that ‘look’ indicated that things where about to become even more sinister than previous and sadly for poor Sally Hardesty things are indeed about to take a turn for the far much worse. The sudden sly glance and differing emotional scale of Jim Siedow’s characterisation from initial concern to the burning ember of a hidden agenda is for me even more disturbing than the quick fire dispatch that Leatherface pursues with the exception of Pam’s prolonged torment. Drayton Sawyer’s beating and capturing of Sally is both cold and calculated at a bestial level and despite Sally’s initial battling protestations. This moment is quite eerily suspenseful and quiet frightening and also clarifies the presence of conspiring forces and the reveal of what is undoubtedly ‘The Cooks’ blatant associated ties? Drayton Sawyer’s deceitful approach to the death and mayhem created beyond his physical presence is now clearly approved by his own actions and does indeed confirm his obvious association with Sally Hardesty’s mask wearing murderous tormentor.
The capture of Sally by Drayton Sawyer and her subsequent journey in the pick-up truck in the company of this man is as convincing a master class of how to perform in the art of maniacal acting by Jim Siedow as you are likely to see again in much of cinema’s massive expanse. His terrifying demeanour, his conversational nonchalant indifference and ultimately his cruel reassurances followed by the immediate physical intimidating prodding torment of the tide-up, gagged and sack hooded victim is without doubt (one of, if not still) the most dreadful plaguing and victimisation of a character. To this day it disturbs me in the most dramatic and terrifying way. It is an elongated and elaborated turnabout of a character I have ever witnessed in a genre movie. (Not withstanding the two powerhouse performances of Michael Rooker and Tom Towles similar psychotic traits in John McNaughton’s 1986 genre masterpiece, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer).
Jim Siedow’s continued abusive assault upon Sally now consumes we the audience with a renewed cold sweat, (one of many already experienced and one of many more still to come I fear!) We rightly cringe at our feeling of inept social awkwardness at having to watch this disingenuous man in the throes of euphoric cruelty and sadistic enjoyment as he controls this cowering, disarmed girl. The cook on a personal level as now become by far the more disturbing and interchangeable even schizophrenic of all the absurd characters we have met during the days events and that happening despite the inclusion of the spectacular and overwhelming power of Gunnar Hansen’s killer, Leatherface, or the earlier disturbing introduction of the sleazy, opportunistic, manic attributes of Edwin Neal’s hitchhiker… (Speaking of which, whatever became of that freaky bastard?) Yes… without doubt for me Jim Siedow’s portrayal of Drayton Sawyer is what makes “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” the most complete and definitive horror movie experience ever conceived simply by his seedy, uncomfortable character presence alone!
Tobe Hooper continues onward and unrelenting with each screen time second that passes and offers no peace in pursuit of continuing his horror expedition as the realisation of the terrifying though quick road-trip down (that) dirt track expands the dark evening vistas and reveals ahead the return to the dreaded “La Frontera”. Not just content with filling his cinematic imagery with thick sprinklings of what is still to come at the revisited scene of the movies opening crimes. It is the added factor that we the audience will now become inclusive as voyeurs of what is undoubtedly install for Sally Hardesty, (whom is currently unaware of much of what is now happening at this point). As the trucks headlights illuminate the dusty track we also catch site of a figure walking down one side of the track. In his left hand he drags a sack, while playing bounce (bobbing) the severed head off the ground with his right hand firmly grasped in the long mane attachment. Immediate displeasure courses across Drayton’s face as his verbal tirade toward this person also suggest that he is familiar with this character and we too quickly recognise the fidgety mannerisms of this uncouth spectacle. It is none other than one Nubbin Sawyer aka The Hitchhiker. The fiendish, razor-blade wielding, wannabe photographer and attacker of the now deceased Franklin Hardesty. The extensive menu of monstrous embodiment that is being served up by Hooper’s brotherly parts in the creation of ‘The Cook’ and ‘The Hitchhiker’ finally comes to the fore as they begin a physical squabble in which during angry exchanges, we also note the reveal of the person behind the cemetery desecration. What follows has a specific and humourous dark edged interplay in the wonderful exchanges of dialogue, it is also all the more disturbing in the mere fact that such a conversational musing should propagate what to these two wicked individuals is nothing other than standard ignominious, violent conspiratorial admittance of the macabre facts surrounding these ghoulish matters and the fact is that both are disturbingly fascinating and extreme in what appears to be a double act from hell and are now being spewed forward with great comedic effect. The designed performances of these ludicrous characters and Hooper’s determination to redefine what is considered normal interaction and comedy timing between two adult figures is spellbinding to the point of absurdity. As with the reality of such culpable and historically factual figures of undoubted influence with the likes of Edward Theodore Gein and probably with a closer En-mass conviction (note) one Charles Manson and his family. This alien commentary would seem crass to the majority of the human race but as with Hooper’s misfits, these brothers seem nothing more than exaggerated and exchangeable in their summation of daily life within the Sawyer unit. After Drayton Sawyer stops pummelling the hitchhiker with the broken end of his broomstick come makeshift cudgel, (the one he broke and used to bludgeon Sally!) The cook returns to the pick-up truck and with the freaky Nubbins now in-tow, he jumping on the back of the truck, we continue to what we fear will be journeys end. Please also note the continued antisocial behavioural patterns that become more apparent as Edwin Neal’s frenzied character becomes more viscerally animated when the cook announces they have a guest as they drag and frog march Sally into the farmhouse of horrors. This fierce momentum of building anguish that has now become remorseless is momentarily broken up for the first and only time since Sally’s ordeal began by what for me is not just one of the greatest moments of ironic comedy timing ever put on celluloid but in essence sums up the whole idea of the vast dimensional social chasm that lurks between normality and chaos. Despite the fact that he – Drayton Sawyer has forcefully and violently kidnapped and subdued someone against their will and with full knowledge that a member of his own family has openly indulged and is indeed the local grave robber, not content in that knowledge it is also noted that his second younger brother of this faculty is the unreasoning murderer and keeper of the beloved chain saw. Despite all this, when Drayton finally reaches the front door of “La Frontera” the outburst regarding the act of vandalism upon the farmhouse door by Leatherface is detachable and simply stunning. “Look what your brother did to that door!”
This moment again is Jim Siedow’s brilliance personified in his on-screen persona. No sooner as the route of comedy effect been smashed into a million tiny pieces by Siedow’s continued character transformation back and forth and then back again but the Congregational gathering of fiends and their captured victim amalgamate into different tasks but not before the seamless way in which that dreaded hallway becomes the hive for a frenetic and bizarre family meet and greet which is measured out in looks of derision by Drayton upon Bubba, whom is now resplendently dressed in his motherly get-up, (grey female wig and a new human mask; taking on the look of an exaggerated version of Norman/Norma Bates?) All this unusual welcome home routine plays out as Nubbins drags Sally under duress into the front room while Drayton swings his stick at Leatherface and rushes toward him like he’s about to punish him for wrecking the front door. This action by the eldest brother also hints at a perceived though distorted Machiavellian family hierarchy being in place, imagining initially that Leatherface would ultimately hold great sway over the Sawyer minions but it seems not to be the case as Drayton continues to verbally deride and hint at possible physical punishment toward his youngest brother Bubba, who is quick to gesture and point out how he has dealt with the infestation problem of earlier and to which Drayton is now enquiring. The dysfunctionality continues as Nubbins violently sets about the internment of Sally by tying her to a chair. Once secured he removes the sack from the victims head and to his surprise the reveal allows our miscreant to holler in tides of rapturous joy as Sally screams back in his face at her forced and terrifying reintroduction to the stuttering attacker of her late brother. As Sally’s suppressed yet audible, lamentable gagged screams re-manufacture this horrendous reacquaintance of a not to distant foe; is it possible that such a sickening association and unjustifiable wrath in this face to face second will surely seal and unhinge the victim in such a superfluous way that you begin to wander how this maniacal torment can continually move forward without signs of recoil. The fact is Hooper has exceeded the subscribed limit and then in his assemblage of unremitting horror decides to push the envelope that little further over the line – in now offering the victim the unforgiving reunion of Leatherface, The Hitchhiker and even Grandfather Sawyer – John Dugan. This becomes a moment when all the senses of impending doom seem to circle around Sally Hardesty like vultures waiting for the inevitable. It is a moment this monster epidemic becomes the property of its sole surviving victim whom is now overwhelmed and overrun by the generational compartmentalisation of Sawyers as she is physically threatened at razor-blade point with a forceful impetus act and is unwillingly made to hold out one of her now deliberately freed tethered arms so an act of ceremony can take place as her blood is offered up to Grandpa Sawyer. Leatherface cuts across her right index finger with a knife, he then places the blooded digit into Grandpa’s mouth, he like some monstrous human husk excepts the reward of tasting the flow of warm blood and begins to joyfully consume the offering and momentarily rejoices with an impromptu upper bodily dance of delight. It is at this point that Sally screams out in a renewed volley of terror and finally succumbs to the continued procession of extreme attrition. Sally faints from the weight of shock and sheer exhaustion of mind, soul and physical trauma. As the blackout been the final act of eternal peace thereafter… “Well, what do you think?”
The slow, dazed re-awakening of Sally Hardesty is momentarily accompanied by a tranquillity both she and the film itself have not experienced since the movies opening seconds. Cutlery is heard scraping the surface of plates? The immediate question: Has the chaos beforehand sedately lapsed? Sally Hardesty’s head circles as she awakens. The regular sound of hearty consumption is taking place at the opposite end of the vast macabre laid out dinning table and facing her directly are none other than the rogues gallery better known as the Sawyer clan. Sally opens her eyes and immediately screams out in renewed horror as she is faced by the degenerate hosts who it seems with insane irony have made her their guest of honour at some twisted dinner party. They in response to the upsurge in cries begin to mockingly hollow, whistle and laugh with delighted glee. The brief cessation is over at once and Hooper makes sure that we understand that Sally’s invitation to this dinner table of lunatics is again an insane and exhausting etiquette bestowed by established ceremony of people that seem intent on plaguing and tormenting their captive guest to the bitter end. This, ‘it was only a nightmare’ suggestive moment also reinforces the shock treatment being applied by these misfits while informing audience participation that this endurance course will not end until Hooper either sees fit to end the victims torment via his despicable creations or Sally finds renewed fight and vigour, though the odds are stacked only one way and doom once again fills the screen with its lingering portrayal. This renewed reality is also a moment in which the victim now seemingly broken of all constituent parts begins to plead for her life and even begins to bargain for her life by suggesting she’ll resort to doing anything in order to survive this madness. The mere suggestion of her proposal sends Sally into heartbreaking cries of demeaning surrender and again reignites her screams of anguish, torment and also an added modicum of anger seems to be creeping into her system as she maddeningly wants to renounce such a mistaken but desperate offer as once again the Sawyers begin to deride their captive as they had done at her awakening. During this prolonged torment the exchanges between The Cook and The Hitchhiker now show a new and more prevalent dynamic which begins to surface as bitter ‘home-truths’ and the inclusion of Nubbins increasing lack of respect toward Drayton’s perceived authority begin to show significant signs of collapse. This immoral back and forth between the two also provides a twisted and bizarre insight into the families functionality and in doing so clearly defines the cowardice of Drayton Sawyer to a point! This despite the initial belief that he is indeed the leading hand in this chaos. A point made clear when Sally in searching for a benevolent chink of hope attempts to sway the cook in offering some form of mercy but a quick rebuttal by the antagonistic Nubbins makes clear the family status quo and the positioning of the cook in the great scheme of things!
These trauma filled moments of exaggerated and shocking circumstance and the difficult and very uncomfortable family squabbles along with victim exchanges are stunningly created and whether prolonged or otherwise, such moments of clarity are impeccably noted as Hooper takes this absurdness and incorporates it into extending this grinding assault of cohabiting issues which only add to the films incredible deviant depiction. Not only is Tobe Hooper dealing with the horror contained within his narrative but the other complex strands of this tale never at any point become secondary to the full commitment of making this genre fable so unique and full to the point of bursting in its consumption of all out horror. This is clearly defined in a moment of massive impact and despite the foreseeable complications installed when Nubbins suggests ominously to Drayton, “I’ve been thinking about lettin’ Grandpa have some fun… you always said that he’s the best!” (whether this is an inference to Grandpa’s work at the local slaughterhouse or indeed the homemade equivalent we are not made certain, though we can take a wild guess?) With consensus agreed and heavily hinting at a historical endemic family past not to dissimilar in tradition as the current madness that is unravelling the prospect of this act of homicide will also justify some kind of special honourable reward being bestowed upon the barely functioning Grandparent as Nubbins enthusiastically approves in his decree, while pointing toward their victim, “hey Grandpa… we’re gonna let you have this one!”
‘The Whack’ scene is easily the most shocking, intense, visceral, prolonged and exhaustive of all the movies scenarios and again I use the word unrelenting to illustrate and best describe several moments of shocking and frenzied participation of the Sawyer family as they attempt to literally ‘brain’ Sally. This scene though fitting in perfectly with the films established dark and disturbing aesthetic which has free-flowed throughout proceedings offers no remorse or let-up and simply amplifies greater emphasis at the makeshift alter of sacrifice during the hammer and large tin bucket scene. This disturbing moment will also be specifically recreated when Tobe Hooper returned in 1986 with this films official sequel. Caroline Williams as Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock on this occasion would suffer the same indignity at the hands of the Sawyers. It is true to say that the continued violent cajoling of Grandpa Sawyer and the celebrational enthusiasm that all (in particular Drayton Sawyer) exude in demeanour is frightening beyond words. The punishing inept way in which Grandpa continually falters in his task is excruciating and drawn out and only when and after several failed attempts does the hammer finally strike Sally’s skull and open up a wound upon her head does this moment send this motley crew into rapture. This painful act fails to silence the panic stricken Sally and after Leatherface has passed the hammer back to Grandpa for another hit. Again Grandpa misses the struggling target. This constant failure begins to frustrate the hitchhiker who is currently restraining their victim. With a frenzied cry of exasperation he quickly announces, “I’ll kill her… let me kill her” and with his hold on Sally slackened, he then attempts to take the hammer, it is at this point that our long suffering victim is able to lash-out and then make for freedom. For a second time Sally does not hesitate when opportunity arises and she makes an attempt at escape and without hesitation dives through the front room window. Daylight greets the stunned and bloodied girl as she briefly attempts to gain her haggled and terrified bearings. Badly injured she rises up and begins to head down the dreaded dirt track that brought her to this hellish place. Tobe Hooper again uses his auteur ability to use much of this pursuit scene in long shot form and to expand upon time, distance and background and those inserted into this moment. We note the inclusion of the light of a new day of early morning which highlights the vastness of the farmhouse and its layout amongst the properties land. The infamous white pick-up truck *licence plate: Texas AF 5468* belonging to one Drayton Sawyer is glimpsed as both The Hitchhiker and Leatherface begin their on foot pursuit of Sally. The layout of the track and the grounds look different somehow as Sally struggles to escape from these terrible people, her pain and ongoing terror obvious, her resistance admirable!
Despite Nubbins Sawyer finally being upon her, Sally continues with great effort and endeavour to escape her pursuer despite he now violently slashing at her back with the continued strokes of his razor-blade. Adding to all this ferocity is the now familiar resonating mechanical sound of the chain saw coughing its throaty buzz not far behind. Sally manages to reach the road which sits at the bottom of the Sawyer property. She now stands in the middle of the tarmac as Nubbins still lashes out and slashes open his victims back, he now totally focused on his assault, he oblivious to his current surroundings. From over the roads brow a cattle truck with its horn blowing a loud, distinct cursory warning to ‘get out of the way’ brings the truck toward a collision course. The vehicles breaks are now being applied as it comes hurtling forward. Sally despite her agonies is quick to notice the speeding red and black livery of the truck hood approaching and pulls free of her attacker whom is in the midst of another downward stroke of his blade when suddenly he turns face on toward the oncoming juggernaut! Doubtless on behalf of both Sally and we the audience he is appreciatively crushed-to-death beneath the skidding vehicle.
Despite the joy of seeing The Hitchhiker splattered across the Texas highway and noting that if ever there was a more reprehensible person deserving of such a violent death, then it must be were we first met The Hitchhiker and it seems only befitting that this should now become his permanent resting place. With one pursuer now dispatched the blood coated Sally (visually the greatest amount of blood-spattered effect noted in the entirety of the film) looks on as the self titled “BLACK MARIA” finally shudders to a halt.
Sally who now has the chain saw wielding Bubba approaching, limps toward the now stationary truck. A large retund truck driver steps out of his vehicle and begins to head toward the incident only to be stopped in his track as the distraught and screaming girl heads toward him, followed in quick succession from behind the truck a closely pursuing 6′ 4, freakishly masked man wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie and toting a fully functioning chain saw. Our large truck driver is quick to about-turn and head back toward the trucks cabin grabbing Sally and lifting her inside before shutting the door behind them. Leatherface begins to vandalise the truck with the saw. (“You’re fucking up the paintwork man!”) As the psychopath continues attacking the drivers door both the driver and Sally now jump out of the passenger side of the truck but not before the driver picks up a large monkey wrench from his cab. Leatherface now alerted to the fact that the two are now attempting to escape via an alternative route, he too now makes for the passenger side and goes in pursuit of both the weighty driver and long term victim Sally. As the truck driver and the injured girl get free from the side of the truck… “do you remember mention of a wrench!” The truck driver turns and with Leatherface mere feet away the driver lobs the tool toward the oncoming lunatic like a quarterback throwing to a receiver for a touchdown. The wrench hits ‘the wigged one’ directly on his forehead which then sends the hulking fiend crashing to the ground. The chain saw falls across Bubba’s right leg and with the saw still rotating the chain now begins to cut into the murderers flesh. Unlike many of the movies future maniacs to come in horror cinema, Leatherface feels the pain this incident brings, he bleeds like his victims bleed. Leatherface is momentarily felled by his injury while both the driver and Sally continue to flee. Eventually the almost incapacitated monster rises up from the effect of his sustained injury, he is barely able to walk upright. As the truck driver continues to runaway in the direction he came from, Sally in one last act of desperation again heads for the centre of the road. Approaching in the opposite direction, a pick-up truck is now confronted by the desperate, blood spattered girl. The driver has to take evasive action as he swerves and just about avoids hitting Sally head-on. The pick-up truck with its out of control momentum spins across the tarmac, down a slight grass verge near a field. As it performs a 180 degree turn it finally comes to a halt and again faces back in the direction from which it has just come. As the driver attempts to restart his stalled Chevrolet, Sally jumps into the pick-up’s back. Approaching the pick-up, while the driver turns over the ignition in order to ‘get the fuck out of here!’ the injured Leatherface now draws closer and closer and seems focused on only one thing and that would be Sally. The pick-up finally fires up just as our killer reaches the trucks tailgate and he swings the chain saw toward the girl. The ‘Chevy’ takes off and only as we pass the cattle truck, “BLACK MARIA” does the traumatised Sally begin to scream uncontrollably in a combination of both an exhaustive relief and delight but also added to this emotional outpouring is a haunting maniacal laughter that hints at the wreckage left behind in the wake of such terrors, it also denotes what will remain of the future Sally Hardesty? Sister of slaughtered brother Franklin, girlfriend of Jerry and friend and associate of Kirk and Pam. Despite her escaping from the clutches of death and the reminder of Leatherface who now becomes distant on the horizon “Who will survive and what will be left of them” is the perfect summation of this terrifying experience but before the camera stops rolling, in a last act of defiance Leatherface swings his chain saw in the air and as the fields expand across the scenery and the morning sun of Texas breaks through the clouds of a new dawn, you just know that somewhere in the terrifying world of Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel the bogeyman has a face made of human flesh carries around a chain saw as his weapon of dispatch and goes by the name of Leatherface.
Tobe Hooper has made great sways through the history of horror cinema and has proved his valid contribution to the genre ten-fold. In these modern times he is strangely and often overlooked by many in the business and has even suffered personally as a result of the high standards he set with his ultimate horror feature “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”. Sadly good will and good luck have not often favoured Mr Hooper and his sad association and breakdown during numerous associations with film producers, fellow directors and the movie business as a whole. These conspiring forces have often stifled the creativity of a man that gave us the greatest horror movie yet. He must also be recognised for redefining the horror genre for television audience’s worldwide, when in 1979 he gave us the mini epic Salem’s Lot, still one of the best adaptations of Stephen King material available. This particular production also set the standard for what we today take for granted in TV serialisations. Let us also note that he was the director behind one of horrors biggest ever Summer blockbuster movies when in association with Steven Spielberg he made “Poltergeist”, 1982. Yes we all know very well the chequered history behind the making of this film but the fact is and despite what others might say, its beating heart is still heavily Hooper influenced. We must also finish this brief homage by not forgetting his 1986 sequel “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II”. Which reintroduces both Jim Siedow as Drayton Sawyer and contains, Leatherface – Bill Johnson and introduces us to Nubbins Sawyers twin brother Bobby ‘Chop-Top’ Sawyer – Bill Moseley. Other than the Sawyer re-investment the more visceral, special effect laden sequel holds little in the styling and direction of the original. This is not a complaint, merely an observation and is still a thoroughly exaggerated but very enjoyable sequel that deliberately searches out the jugular and immediately severs the bloody arteries often with over-the-top dark humour. Tobe Hooper is still and always will be a (personal favourite) film director hero of mine and I repeat… the original “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is undeniably still the richest and scariest genre movie thus far. E.D. Leach.